America’s relationship with the concept of the prosperity gospel has become quite complicated.
About two months ago, Kate Bowler, a religion professor from the Duke Divinity School, wrote a column for The New York Times in which she described how her recently diagnosed stage 4 cancer made her take a new look at the concept of the prosperity gospel, which, as she put it, is “the belief that God grants health and wealth to those with the right kind of faith.”
According to Bowler, who has also written a book on the matter, the prosperity gospel is the concept that if you use your financial wealth to support your church, then God will be nice to you and provide you with health and happiness. Though the concept was originally developed during the New Thought movement in the 19th century, the Bible also gives the idea some weight, since, as one quote reads, God wants you to have things in abundance.
But, as Fowler described in her editorial, this wasn’t the case for her. Her hometown farming community in Manitoba embraced the concept of the prosperity gospel, and yet she still got diagnosed with cancer.
“The experience of fighting cancer, however, gave her fresh insight to this obsession: Can the prosperity gospel make sense of radical and senseless tragedy? Or does its theology rob us of the opportunity to come to terms with our suffering?” asked Joseph P. Laycock of New Republic.
Laycock’s questions are often debated by the faithful at large in America. There seems to be a cultural divide about whether or not the idea of the prosperity gospel means anything in today’s society, which is often ridden with tragedy. Few churches really embrace the idea of the prosperity gospel. But the idea is common throughout American culture in general, Laycock wrote.
“Controversial televangelist Joel Olsteen claims that he ‘shuns’ the prosperity gospel label, but still asserts that those who are ‘blessed’ can expect financial rewards along with healthy families and peace of mind,” Laycock wrote. “Talk show hostess Oprah Winfrey has been accused of promoting prosperity gospel thinking by pushing inspirational messages to her audience that emphasize the benefits of a positive attitude. Instagram photos and tweets marked with the hashtag ‘#blessed’ populate social media feeds.”
This way of popular culture creates a bad mindset for Americans, Laycock wrote. The modern culture interpretation of the prosperity gospel makes it seem like we can have whatever we want, which makes us less able to confront the realistic tragedies of life.
But this is rarely the case. In fact, God may want more from believers than just their wealth. He wants them to exceed expectations.
As Colossians 3:22 from the Message Bible translation reads, “Servants, do what you’re told by your earthly masters. And don’t just do the minimum that will get you by. Do your best.”
Megachurch pastor Rick Warren said this verse shows that God wants you to put your best effort forward, and it’s only then that you will be rewarded.
There’s a lesson here that can be taken and used for relationship issues, too. In many relationships, you can’t just get what you want. As recent research shows, partners are often looking for couples to invest time, effort and commitment to them in order for them to find happiness – not just money, like you’d see with some churches who embrace the prosperity gospel.
For example, new research from The Independent found that women often have two major complaints against men they’re dating – that “he is never there for me” and “there isn’t enough intimacy and connection.”
“These women feel alone even when they are in a relationship,” The Independent reported. “In many ways, these are related complaints. These women cannot trust their men to be there for them when they need them. Most of the time, this is about being there for them emotionally: listening to them, caring for them and safeguarding their hearts.”
Men, meanwhile, think there is too much fighting in a relationship. These issues between men and women may actually be linked, because if men were more attentive to their relationship – if they invested the time, money and connection – they may get the happiness that relationships can bring.
“Learn the relatively simple and fundamental skill of attunement and your relationship with women will change profoundly,” according to The Independent. “We found that men who learned emotional attunement got what they ultimately wanted from their relationships.”
So, as it is with faith, embrace your relationship with God and the church with all your emotion, time and attention, and you may find all the rewards it provides.